By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
At one time it was the social event of the year.
Thousands would attend Blast from the Past and dance the night away, celebrating decades of music, style and culture. Full-page ads in The Joplin Globe would detail scores of contest winners, from lip-synching to singing.
The event was so big that it couldn’t be contained in a single night -- in its heyday, four nights would be scheduled and booked solid. Organizers are thrilled to bring the event back.
“There was a tremendous following of people who had been to the Blast every single year,” said Cemma Hurn, fundraising coordinator for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “When it went dormant, they were like, ‘What do we do now?’ It was the one time of the year when they went out, cut loose and listened to old music.”
After a four-year break, the event returns for its 25th time today and Saturday. Held at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, the event will offer traditional features, including a floor show with skits and music.
Formerly run as a benefit for the Mercy Regional Foundation, the event was halted in 2009 because of economic challenges. On the heels of a recession, organizers said individuals and businesses were not projected to be doing well enough to contribute the funds necessary to pull off the event.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” said then president Treva Kennedy to the Globe in 2009. “The overall thing we had to look at was that economic conditions globally are not in good shape. Several businesses in the area have had to make very hard decisions, and we’re no exception.”
The event got its start in 1978 as a costume contest among hospital staff members, who dressed up like characters from the TV show “MASH.” The resulting Mash Bash got big enough to warrant growing into its own event in 1983.
Past performances have included everything from Boy George to Gene Simmons, from conga lines to moonwalking, from a military drill with grills to a chilling fill of “Thriller.”
The event grew in size and raised money for the foundation through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, until 2009. Even then, as officials halted the event, they called it a hiatus, hoping that it could eventually return.
The MDA’s local clinic is affiliated with Mercy Hospital. Like other charitable groups, the local MDA has worked through tough times since the 2011 tornado.
“We came into the year $100,000 in the hole,” Hern said. “We needed some new fundraising events.”
The local branch of the MDA helps patients with muscular dystrophy pay for wheelchairs and braces. It also runs support groups and sends young patients to a summer camp.
When the committee members who ran the event decided the time was right to bring it back, they wanted to find an organization that could benefit. Hern said foundation members approached the MDA with the idea.
“We were ecstatic,” Hern said. “This was a staple event. Everyone went to this.”
Hern said the return wasn’t so simple. In a lot of ways, it was like establishing a new event. Instead of four nights, the event will be held over two evenings. The floor show will be hosted by Drew Moore from KODE-TV and RT from KMOQ-FM (New Life Radio 105.3).
Hern said several community leaders have choreographed their own shows. Music will range throughout the decades, from the ’50s to the ’80s. Even longtime organizer Judy Love will make an appearance.
And if the show is successful, then the foundation will pass the torch to the MDA completely, Hern said.
“This is an experimental year,” Hern said. “All the funds are going to the MDA, even though Mercy is a part of it. They are handing it over.”
Want to go?
“Blast from the Past” will be held at 7 p.m. today and Saturday at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, located at 3615 S. Range Line Road. The lip-synch floor show will start about 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $20, $200 for tables of 10. Tickets may be bought at the MDA office, Matt and Terry Auto Sales and Cycle Connection Harley-Davidson. Details: 417-781-8600.